The steampunk movement has been bursting from its corseted seams and spilling out over the pop culture scene in a big way over the past few years, expanding to include an aesthetic that influences movies, graphic novels, music and more. While steampunk has gained recognition through exposure on episodes of the hit television shows “Castle” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” the movement’s biggest influence can be seen in the fashion industry.
It’s clear that steampunk style is rapidly outgrowing its niche status, but the subculture remains misunderstood by many and is considered an oddity or a costume by most. In celebration of All Hallows Eve, here is some enlightenment.
In the Beginning
While steampunk’s roots stretch back to the classic sci-fi tales of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells from the turn of the 19th century, the term “steampunk” wasn’t coined until 1987. Author K.W. Jeter first used it to describe an emerging literary genre (i.e., fantasy tales set in an era where steam power is still widely used -- usually Victorian era in Great Britain). Works of steampunk often feature futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architecture and art. Jeter initially meant it as a riff on the more modern term “cyberpunk.” Regardless, the moniker stuck and has since expanded to include an aesthetic that influences movies, graphic novels, music and more.
How to Wear It
With Halloween ahead, it’s the perfect chance to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and create a unique steampunk guise. And it’s a cool look you can keep on rocking long after everyone else has put away their costumes.
Want to try out this fashion trend in which people reimagine modern capabilities with 19th century machines? Simply follow the advice of the famously flamboyant Victorian Oscar Wilde: “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.” And while there are no set guidelines for steampunk fashion, your look should synthesize modern styles influenced by the Victorian era.
Steampunk aficionados advise to “start period and then add.” Begin by pulling out that 19th century American garment staple that’s still hanging in almost every closet: a sturdy pair of trousers fashioned by a guy named Levi Strauss. Or don a suit with a vest, a long wool coat and spats. You can also sport military-inspired garments.
Accent your look with a mix of technological and period accessories: timepieces, parasols, goggles and ray guns. Modern accessories, like cell phones and MP3 players, can also be used in steampunk outfits. But to properly juxtapose 21st century technology and 19th century accoutrement, the devices should be modified to look like they were made in the Victorian era. How? Apply a little antiquing paint, available at most craft stores, to give the product that aged looked. Then, place it in a vest pocket as though it were, say, an antique pocket watch.
If you need some ideas to handcraft your garments and accessories, or want to purchase ready-made faux 19th century designer fashion, check out the websites